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Troubles arise for Pakistan's leader

Troubles arise for Pakistan's leader

Author: Kathy Gannon
Publication: Associated Press
Date: July 13, 2000

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Nine months after he took power in Pakistan, the honeymoon seems to be over for the military leader, General Pervez Musharraf.

Many Pakistanis appear to be wondering why they so openly welcomed him on Oct.  12, the day a bloodless army coup swept Premier Nawaz Sharif, disgraced as corrupt and power-hungry, from office.

Musharraf, in an interview, said Pakistan is one of the most difficult countries in the world to govern.

His country has all the resources and people it needs to run well, Musharraf said.  But, he said, a string of corrupt and incompetent leaders have badly hurt the country.

''We need to get our own act together,'' the military leader said in the interview Tuesday.  ''We have all the potential.  I am confident that we will get our act together.''

Not all his countrymen share his confidence.

When Musharraf came to power, Abdur Rahim was a clerk in a bank, had a modest home, and had hopes that something good was about to happen in Pakistan.  On this day, Rahim's hand trembled as he wiped beads of sweat from his brow.  He had stood for hours in the 104-degree sun hoping for a day's work at a construction site.

He barely stopped to catch his breath as he rattled off his woes: Wheat prices are up; sugar prices are up; there are no jobs.  He has seven children, all of them of school age.  He squeezed his eyes to stop tears.

''Every day I wonder where am I going to get money for food, for school, for everything.  I have nothing,'' Rahim said.  ''When I lost my job they called it a golden handshake, but I didn't get any money.  This is how this government is helping the poor man.

''There are 10 people for every one job waiting in line as a day laborer,'' he said.  ''The army has done nothing to make things better.''

Analysts say it was a naive military that took power on Oct.  12, unaware of the level of corruption here, the disastrous state of the economy, and the power of Pakistan's vested interests.

''They completely underestimated just the facts of the problem, and it has since dawned on them that they face a much larger problem than they thought,'' said Riffat Hussain, international relations professor at Qaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad.

But Musharraf said he knows the problems - sectarian strife, a troubled and potentially dangerous relationship with India, a proliferation of armed groups, a militant and powerful religious right, corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, and an economy in shambles.

''Let me tell you,'' he said, ''there are thousands of issues in Pakistan.  There is a sea of problems in Pakistan, so you have to pick out from that sea and decide, what do you focus on?''

Musharraf's army-led government has chosen economic revival, improved governance, interprovincial harmony, and development of a political culture.  The Supreme Court has told Musharraf that he has three years to return democratic rule to Pakistan.  It will be a tight schedule, but Musharraf says he can meet the deadline.

His government points to some economic indicators that show signs of improvement.

Investor confidence is up slightly.  In Musharraf's nine months of rule, the Karachi Stock Index has increased by almost 300 points.  The index has plunged for much of the previous year of Sharif's rule.

But Musharraf faces another tough fiscal battle: trying to get Pakistanis to pay their taxes.  Barely 1.2 million of Pakistan's 140 million people pay taxes.  The wealthiest, many of them former politicians, pay only a few hundred dollars.

''We have to collect taxes.  This is our lifeline,'' Musharraf said.

Resistance has been stiff, particularly from business leaders who have operated on a cash-only basis and who fear a deeply corrupt tax department.  They have been calling weekly strikes and joining hands with religious right-wing groups in what could be a lethal combination for Musharraf's government: Religious conservatives have been telling business leaders that the only tax God requires is 2.5 percent of their income.

''They are a military government and have the power, yet they have been very reluctant to wield that power and instead have come across as a bunch of nice guys who can be taken for a ride,'' Hussain said.

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